Arsacid Pahlavi
Native toParthian Empire (incl. Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Arsacid dynasty of Iberia and Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania)
RegionParthia, ancient Iran
EraState language 248 BC – 224 AD. Marginalized by Middle Persian from the 3rd century, though longer existent in the Caucasus due to several eponymous branches
Inscriptional Parthian, Manichaean script
Language codes
ISO 639-3xpr

The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlawānīg, is an extinct ancient Northwestern Iranian language once spoken in Parthia, a region situated in present-day northeastern Iran and Turkmenistan. Parthian was the language of state of the Arsacid Parthian Empire (248 BC – 224 AD), as well as of its eponymous branches of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Arsacid dynasty of Iberia, and the Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania.

Parthian had a significant impact on Armenian, a large part of whose vocabulary was formed primarily from borrowings from Parthian, and had a derivational morphology and syntax that was also affected by language contact but to a lesser extent. Many ancient Parthian words were preserved and now survive only in Armenian. The Semnani or Komisenian languages may descend from Parthian directly or be a Caspian language with Parthian influences, but the topic lacks sufficient research.[1]


Parthian was a Western Middle Iranian language. Language contact made it share some features of Eastern Iranian languages, the influence of which is attested primarily in loanwords. Some traces of Eastern influence survive in Parthian loanwords in Armenian.[2] Parthian loanwords appear in everyday Armenian vocabulary; nouns, adjectives, adverbs, denominative verbs, and administrative and religious lexicons.[3]

Taxonomically, Parthian, an Indo-European language, belongs to the Northwestern Iranian language group while Middle Persian belongs to the Southwestern Iranian language group.[4][5]

Written Parthian

Main article: Pahlavi scripts

The Parthian language was rendered using the Pahlavi writing system, which had two essential characteristics. Firstly, its script derived from Aramaic,[6] the script (and language) of the Achaemenid chancellery (Imperial Aramaic). Secondly, it had a high incidence of Aramaic words, which are rendered as ideograms or logograms; they were written Aramaic words but pronounced as Parthian ones (See Arsacid Pahlavi for details).

The Parthian language was the language of the old Satrapy of Parthia and was used in the Arsacids courts. The main sources for Parthian are the few remaining inscriptions from Nisa and Hecatompylos, Manichaean texts, Sasanian multilingual inscriptions and remains of Parthian literature in the succeeding Middle Persian.[7] The later Manichaean texts, composed shortly after the demise of the Parthian power, play an important role for reconstructing the Parthian language.[8] Those Manichaean manuscripts contain no ideograms.


Attestations of the Parthian language include:[9]


This sample of Parthian literature is taken from a Manichaean text fragment:[13]

A fragment from Mani's own account of his life
Parthian English
Āγad hēm Parwān-Šāh, u-m wāxt ku: Drōd abar tō až yazdān.

Šāh wāxt ku: Až ku ay? – Man wāxt ku: Bizišk hēm až Bābel

zamīg. [...] ud pad hamāg tanbār hō kanīžag društ būd. Pad

wuzurg šādīft ō man wāxt ku: Až ku ay tū, man baγ ud anžīwag?

I came to the Parwan-Shah and said: "Benedictions ⟨be⟩ upon you from the gods (in honorific

Plural)!" The Shah said: "From where are you?" I said: "I am a physician from the land

of Babylon." [Fragment missing in which Mani seems to describe his miraculous

healing of the Shah's handmaiden] and in ⟨her⟩ whole body the handmaiden

became healthy ⟨again⟩. In great joy ⟨she⟩ said to me: "From where are you,

my lord and saviour?"

Differences from Middle Persian

Although Parthian was quite similar to Middle Persian in many aspects, clear differences in lexical, morphological and phonological forms can still be observed. In the text above, the following forms can be noticed:

Other prominent differences, not found in the text above, include the personal pronoun ⟨az⟩, I, instead of ⟨an⟩ and the present tense root of the verb ⟨kardan⟩, to do, ⟨kar-⟩ instead of Middle Persian ⟨kun-⟩. Also, the Middle Persian linking particle and relative pronoun ⟨ī(g)⟩ was not present in Parthian, but the relative pronoun ⟨čē⟩, what, was used in a similar manner.[14]

See also



  1. ^ Lecoq, pg. 297
  2. ^ Lecoq, Pierre (1983). "Aparna". Encyclopedia Iranica. Vol. 1. Costa Mesa: Mazda Pub.
  3. ^ Livshits 2006, p. 79.
  4. ^ "Iranian languages". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
  5. ^ "Iran Chamber Society: History of Iran: Parthian History and Language". Retrieved 2017-09-20.
  6. ^ "Iran Chamber Society: Iranian Scripts: Parthian Script". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Parthian language". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-09-20.
  8. ^ Wiesehöfer, Josef (2001). Ancient Persia : from 550 BC to 650 AD. Translated by Azado, Azizeh. I.B. Tauris. p. 118. ISBN 1-86064-675-1.
  9. ^ Tafazzoli, A.; Khromov, A. L. (1996). "Sasanian Iran: Intellectual Life". History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol. 3. UNESCO. ISBN 92-3-103211-9.
  10. ^ A. D. H. Bivar (1981). "The Second Parthian Ostracon from Qubmis (Qubmis Commentaries No. 3)". Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies. 19 (1): 81–84. doi:10.2307/4299707. JSTOR 4299707.
  11. ^ "The Bilingual Inscription of Vologeses son of Mithridates" (PDF).
  12. ^ Potter, D. S. (1991). "The Inscriptions on the Bronze Herakles from Mesene: Vologeses IV's War with Rome and the Date of Tacitus' Annales" (PDF). Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 88: 277–290. JSTOR 20187558.
  13. ^ "Manichaean Reader, Part No. 4: A fragment from Maniʼs own account of his life".
  14. ^ Sims-Williams, Nicholas (2004). Corpus Fontium Manichaerum: Dictionary of Manichaean Texts, Vol. III, Part 1: Dictionary of Manichaen Middle Persian and Parthian. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. p. 129. ISBN 2-503-51776-5.